Truth: Datum, Non Factum (Given, Not Made)

[Originally posted on Facebook, 11 March.]

Wonderful discussion today on Pope Benedict's Caritas in veritate (which can be viewed in other posts). It is a breathtaking contribution to Catholic social doctrine. One of the most striking aspects of the document is the characteristically Ratzingerian move of highlighting the Augustinian emphasis on our fallen tendency to curve in on ourselves.

This hardening of the human horizon against the transcendent context of divine goodness (a way of describing secularization) causes the powers of the human soul, in their erotic striving for the true, the good, and the beautiful, to miscarry and collapse upon the self (concupiscence as moral entropy) in an autoerotic flight from otherness. This secularizing operation derails integral human development, which can only be consummated within ipsum esse subsistens. Instead, closure against the infinite horizon of God causes the powers of the human soul and of the world to stagnate, becoming poisonous, miasmic, rather than dynamic, transcendent. When the dimension of gratuity is eclipsed, there is only the concupiscence of exploitative desire. Knowing what's in ourselves, we assume that it's the same with everybody else's heart: we become fearful, and brutal in our fear: "a perpetual and restless desire of power after power" and "a war of all against all" (as Hobbes puts it).

Pope Benedict writes in no. 34 of Caritas in veritate: "Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life, and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence—to express it in faith terms—of original sin."

Truth or power: if we deny the givenness of natures (if we forget that everything is grace, a gift; if we forget to wonder at each thing, to attend to the almost-sensuous contours of each thing's intelligibility), then things (including human bodies) become manipulables and commodities. Without eyes for the luminosity of truth in each thing, there is only might making right—and the weak suffering what they must.

If the powerful are not checked by the measure of the truth of things (of natures), a zero-sum economics of scarcity will be death-dealing for the non-elite.

I'm trying to work through a provocative work by René Char, a French poet who was a leader in the Maquis, called Hypnos. In Fragment 8, he writes: "The moment the instinct for survival gives way to the instinct for possession, reasonable human beings lose all sense of their probable lifespan and day-to-day equilibrium. They grow hostile to small chills in the atmosphere and submit without further ado to whatever evil and deceit might require of them. Under a maleficent hailstorm their miserable existence simply crumbles away."

Fearful avarice (which must manage everything) destroys solidarity. It keeps us from doing what is most natural: being friendly to any fellow human, taking care, being responsible. To love the other, I must receive the other, wonder at and wait upon the other. If I am frantically building my world, there is no place for the other AS other.

Again, Pope Benedict (from no. 53): "One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation. If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved, or from difficulties in being able to love. Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God's love, by man's basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself, thinking himself to be self-sufficient or merely an insignificant and ephemeral fact, a 'stranger' in a random universe. Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he refuses to think and to put faith in a foundation. All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies, and false utopias. ...The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side."

Solidarity (which works the healing of alienation) requires marveling at the givenness and graciousness of truth, which as such, in every case, breathes forth love—redolent of intimacy, of tomorrow, of God.